Discover the Best Art Schools in Chicago

Students looking to create and surround themselves with art should ensure that Chicago is on their list of places to consider attending college. 

Home to over 100 sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and artworks in the downtown area alone, Chicago offers a range of unique degree programs in schools within Chicago proper and its neighboring suburbs.

We have compiled a list of the best art schools in Chicago, where there is a niche for any kind of artist/student. 

Some programs specialize in a particular media form, like drawing, painting, or photography, while others approach the curriculum through a more interdisciplinary lens, blending student experimentation with inquiry-based discussion. 

Read ahead to learn about the unique course opportunities, on-campus initiatives, and community partnerships that make each Chicago school an appealing choice for emerging artists.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alanscottwalker, School of the Art Institute Chicago Grant Park, CC BY-SA 3.0

SAIC students engage in an interdisciplinary curriculum – they do not declare a major, and they have the flexibility to study among almost 50 areas of study, including Sustainable Design & News Art Journalism.

The SAIC is one of the most decorated schools on this list. 

Having been named the “most influential art school” by art critics across the nation, they also rank as the #2 Fine Arts Graduate Program in the U.S and #7 Global Best programs according to the QS World University Rankings by Art and Design subject.

Opportunities abound at the SAIC, for both current and potential students. Founded in 1868, the Visiting Arts Program (VAP) attracts artists and thought leaders who contribute annually via lectures, performances, and other exhibitions. 

High school art enthusiasts can take courses at SAIC or participate in the 2-week or 4-week Summer Institute, in which they (1) earn 2-4 credit hours and (2) prepare a compelling portfolio to use for college admission purposes. 

Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago
Beyond My Ken, Columbia College Ludington Building 1104 South Wabash Avenue, CC BY-SA 4.0

Columbia College Chicago is an excellent option for students who wish to pursue their art education with the assistance of financial aid – 99% of freshmen and 97% of transfer students received financial assistance in the recent fall semester, with an average financial aid package totaling $26,199 for a first-year student.

Columbia College offers nearly 50 programs all focused on the realm of the arts. 

The BA in Immersive Media is one unique program where students hone the skills needed for creating augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality experiences. 

Immersive media continues to grow as an industry, and students in this program will practice working across a range of creative platforms to prepare for careers as game designers, user experience creators, and media technology trailblazers.

American Academy of Art College

There are seven areas where students can pursue BFA degrees at the American Academy of Art College, including Art Direction and Illustration. 

Illustration students learn how to merge creative yet reproducible work and navigate projects based on scenarios that artists will encounter in their professional worlds. 

Students will work on their own, in addition to as a team, to conceive of and create new works. Often, illustration students will be tasked with reproducing a concept based on verbal or visual prompts. 

Art Direction is another unique program in which major candidates experiment with typography, storyboarding, branding, photography, advertising art, and other forms of media. 

Students design digital and print advertising campaigns alongside a team of creative peers and authorities in the area.

University of Chicago Department of Visual Arts

University of Chicago
Nicomachian, University of Chicago at Fall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Visual Arts majors at UC DOVA start their art education by choosing one of three basic courses: 2D phenomena, 3D phenomena, or time-based media. 

As they progress and experiment with various media forms, they decide upon one or a combination of forms to concentrate on in their remaining time at school.

When students become juniors, they are eligible to apply for the Studio Track, a degree phase in which students work with DOVA faculty throughout their senior year to produce a spring exhibition. 

At this point, seniors can also apply to rent studio space in the nearby Logan Center.

The University of Chicago DOVA offers niche classes not otherwise featured on art school programs of studies. 

One interesting class – ARTV 20023 Food: From Need to Want, or Ethics and Aesthetics – examines the vitality of food within an academic and community context. Local chefs, farmers, and foragers lecture weekly, as well.

Wheaton College

Students passionate about pursuing an arts education in an environment and curriculum integrated with the Christian faith will find a home at Wheaton College, where they can major in studio art, art history, or community arts. 

Wheaton’s Community Art major is one of its kind – first developed in 1990 by the school’s Art Department, it creates opportunities for students to contribute to community murals, youth development, letter-writing campaigns, church outreach, and art therapy. 

As part of this major, students also take eight hours of interdisciplinary electives, ranging from Cross-Cultural Psychology to Compassion in Ministry and Poverty, Justice, and Transformation.

Students at Wheaton frequently showcase their work in exhibitions and competitions. Some perks of attending Wheaton as an arts major include free membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, which is the #1 rated museum in the world according to Trip Advisor. 

Students also get access to the Field Museum, Museum of Contemporary Photography, National Museum of Mexican Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University
Lacrossewi, Deering Library – Northwestern University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Part of Northwestern’s highly competitive acceptance rate of 7% is likely due to its exceptional overall caliber. 

The school is ranked as the #9 Best National University by the U.S. World and News Report. Most Northwestern students combine two or more areas of study into an interdisciplinary major, and over half of its students study abroad at some point during their time there.

The Department of Art, Theory, and Practice at Northwestern positions the study of art practice in traditional media at the center of the undergraduate curriculum – students blend theory and practice as they both examine theoretical perspectives in discussion and practice specific techniques in the studios.

The Block Museum of Art – named a Top U.S. Campus Museum by the New York Times – is one of many campus assets, housing over 4,000 artworks in its permanent exhibitions and dedicating a third of its space to seasonal collections.

The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Art & Art History

Students at the UIC School of Art & Art History can earn a BFA in either Art or Art Education. 

For the Art BFA, students complete a first-year program where they experiment with a wide range of media forms. 

They must participate in an all-school portfolio review to move forward into the major-related curriculum. 

From there, students choose one of four categories to specialize: New Media Arts, Moving Image, Photography, and Studio Arts. 

New Media Arts offers an interdisciplinary curriculum where students work with creative experts to research, create, and test artistic solutions to emergent technology needs. A recent new class within the program of studies – ART 151 Creative Coding – teaches students how to use code-based tools to present data in interactive forms.

Students who opt to pursue a BFA in Art Education gain valuable experience in student teaching internships where they work with certified art educators in the Chicago Public Schools System. 

Regardless of which degree path art students select, they will each create and present a thesis exhibition.

Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University Chicago
Amerique, Cudahy Library.2, CC BY 3.0

Loyola University makes good on its attempts to find and create opportunities for students in the Chicago community. 

All students are invited to submit their artwork to the Annual Student Art Competition, which is displayed at the Ralph Arnold Gallery.

All art students are encouraged to participate in either a Visual Communication Internship or a Gallery Internship. 

The first internship prepares students for applying to graduate school or building an entry-level career, while the second internship gives students the chance to examine artworks within local galleries and museums. 

Loyola offers five art majors, with its Sculpture and Ceramics major being one of the more rare concentrations found in programs of study across the nation. 

Sculpture students gain experience in hand-building and wheel-throwing, and may also take courses within other areas of study, like Color Theory or Metalwork and Jewelry.

Dominican University

Dominican University
Guerillaart, Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, CC BY-SA 4.0

Ranked as the #1 Best Value School in Illinois and #3 in Social Mobility, Dominican is one of only two schools in the nation ranked in the Top 10 Overall schools for Social Mobility. 

Within the Department of Art and Design, students can major in Graphic Design, Painting, or Photo-Cinema.

Students majoring in Photo-Cinema often receive grants to complete creative projects in national parks, publish their first novel, or work alongside independent film producers. 

If there is a conference or event that students in any art focus wish to attend, they can apply for funding through URSCI – the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Investigations Program. 

Many Dominican students participate in the Rome winter break program or the Florence summer study abroad program. 

Additionally, the university offers study abroad opportunities in London, South Africa, Cuba, and other countries. 

The Florence excursion is enriching for art students, who study either photography or drawing in a historic landscape defined by its art.

North Park University

North Park University
Rputera, North Park University Campus Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

At North Park, students choose from two focus areas within the BA degree track: Fine Arts or Graphic Design. 

The Fine Arts concentration combines the analysis of art history with experimentation in drawing, painting, photography, and other media forms. 

Professor Nnenna Okore teaches a class in three-dimensional design and is a recipient of the 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar Award – her artwork has been displayed in some of the nation’s award-winning galleries and museums around the world.

The Graphic Design concentration, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of good visual and verbal communication skills, as well as creative problem-solving strategies. 

Students can alternatively work to obtain an Arts Management Certificate, which could prepare them to excel in positions where they oversee community arts institutions, lead creative programs, host events, etc. 

Lewis University

Lewis University offers a number of unique, pragmatic programs for the aspiring artist.

The Interactive Design concentration provides impactful interactive user experiences via smartphone or online technology. Students in these courses will design, prototype, present, test, and refine innovations. 

One of the assets of Lewis’ art curriculum is that it prioritizes project-based course offerings that focus on community needs.

On-campus, there are many opportunities for art students to get involved, including the Graphic Design Club and Art Club. 

Students can also contribute to the Windows Fine Arts magazine or The Flyer student newspaper. Red Graphics is a student-led graphic design studio that collaborates with Chicago-based clients on brand identity and development. 

Lewis offers an exciting curriculum at an exceptional value – 98% of students receive a financial aid package.